Jon Miller of News Corp. Speaks with Jessi Hempel of Fortune about MySpace last year
Last year at Fortune’s Brainstorm: Tech I watched News Corp. digital czar Jon Miller talk almost glowing of the new talent News Corp. was bringing into MySpace. It was just two months after the hiring of Facebook’s Owen Van Natta as CEO and without mentioning him by name, Miller appeared to lay out the case for why Van Natta was the man to lead MySpace forward:
“You can’t do everything and you can’t do it all yourself. You have to look outside in addition to within. You must be focused. We are focused on music, games and video. You can’t play catch-up. It requires a top-to-bottom (culture) shift. Part of the idea of bringing in the new team was to make this shift. We’re going to make a culture that is product focused, entrepreneurial and dedicated to continued innovation.”
However, maybe it was telling that Miller refereed to “them” as a team and not Van Natta as the lone savior. Because now, only 6 months later, Van Natta is out of a job and MySpace COO, Mike Jones, and chief product officer, Jason Hirschhorn (both handpicked for the “team” by Miller) appear to be at the helm of a still-teetering ship.
Kara Swisher of All Things Digital (a News Corp owned publication) reports that contrary to public statements, Miller fired Van Natta after all day meetings on Wednesday. In his internal memo to staffers, first picked-up by PaidCotent (in-full below), Miller noted that Van Natta was “stepping down,” while praising the efforts of Jones and Hirschhorn.
He did however, give some credit to Van Natta for a slight revival for MySpace, noting “We added over 1.5 million users and grew significantly in time spent last month – as a result of many of his efforts.”
So why the abrupt exit if they were headed in the right direction? One obvious reason is that Rupert Murdoch is still not happy where MySpace is. He publicly noted in a recent earnings call that “It’s (MySpace) not where we want it.” During that same call, the company highlighted that its digital media group dropped $32 million from a year earlier – largely due to marketers moving away from MySpace and into Facebook. But what can they do with it at this point?
The new team’s vision appeared to be focused on music and gaming. MySpace still has the in into Hollywood and New York. But with shrinking traffic, can they build subscription services into the mix? There have been rumors about a music subscription service but nothing has been announced publicly. Without that, the site appears to be a niche site that won’t be a revenue maker for the company. Could they on-load it? Maybe a Russian investor like Digital Sky Technologies (investor in Facebook) would be interested speculate media insiders, but I’m not sure what other appetite is out there for MySpace in its current state.
But perhaps the bigger question is where will Van Natta end up? Perhaps, Twitter?
Today we announced that Owen Van Natta is stepping down as MySpace’s CEO. Mike Jones and Jason Hirschhorn, who have each done a great job from both an operational and product perspective, are being elevated to co-Presidents and will assume Owen’s responsibilities. While this may be a surprising turn of events for some of you, I am absolutely confident that this change is best for all parties involved and – most importantly – the MySpace business. Owen took on an incredible challenge in assuming leadership of MySpace during a difficult period. He has worked to refocus and revitalize the company, and I believe MySpace is pointed in the right direction and gaining valuable momentum – we added over 1.5 million users and grew significantly in time spent last month – as a result of many of his efforts. However, in discussing with Owen his priorities for the future both personally and professionally, we both agreed that it was best that he step down at this time. I am grateful to Owen for his hard work, and I ask that you join me in wishing him well in the future. His departure is effective immediately, as are the appointments of both Mike and Jason.
I will leave it to Mike and Jason to communicate to all of you their excitement about the future and their priorities for the business going forward, but I would like to express my confidence in their ability to lead MySpace into this new and promising chapter. Since joining in April, their efforts on both the operational and product development fronts have been vital to our recent progress.
Thank you all for your continued hard work, and please join me in congratulating Mike and Jason on their new roles, and in wishing Owen all the best in the future.
Office of Jonathan Miller
Chairman & CEO, News Corp. Digital Media Group
Chief Digital Officer, News Corporation